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Collaboration is key to our survival, but only if we do it right

If we think of collaboration as enlightened self interest, then there is an argument that the reason we survived as the dominant species is because we collaborated.

No wonder we love collaboration. It’s served us well. Working together, being dependent on others and experiencing empathy gave us an evolutionary advantage. It made us who we are, but also equipped us to survive and thrive compared to other similar species.

There is a lot of call for collaboration in health, every policy document shouts that only by working collaboratively together can the NHS confront its biggest challenges.

There is a growing body of evidence demonstrating that collaboration has been shown to improve patient outcomes including reducing morbidity and mortality rates. Collaboration can also lead to increased job satisfaction and even reduce workloads among healthcare providers.

But as Rich Taunt points out, for all the good collaboration does, we need to be realistic about the benefits that it can bring and the effort required to realise them. We need a more sophisticated understanding of when – and what type of – working together is appropriate, and what’s reasonable to expect it to deliver.

Collaboration rarely if ever takes place spontaneously. In fact, to collaborate effectively takes deliberate effort to develop clarity of purpose and time to build trusting relationships. With time and headspace in such short supply, it is unsurprising that many promising collaborations struggle to gain traction and fizzle out.

At Kaleidoscope, we have developed an approach to collaboration to help leaders and collaborators better understand what makes collaborations effective and what they can do to improve them. The approach is structured around eight characteristics and each characteristic is accompanied by a set of indicators and interventions to improve in that area.

We’ve grouped the characteristics into two areas: those focused on building the right culture and those focused on ensuring the collaboration has the right structure and sufficient resources.

Our experience has shown that the sector often emphasises the structural characteristics. This is natural because, as David Relph and others have pointed out, structures are visible and can easily be pointed to as a marker of progress.

Structure alone is insufficient, collaborations will not succeed unless the partners are committed to the purpose and trust each other. Effective collaboration relies on partners’ inherent motivation to cooperate, and that can be fostered through shared purpose and the explicit cultivation of trust. You need leaders who are able to communicate effectively, span boundaries and empower others to do the same.

Shared purpose and a supportive culture allow for better use of resources and skills. Having ways to measure and improve will keep you from mission drift. But an effective collaboration also needs enabling governance processes to keep it responsive to its members’ needs. You can read about each characteristic in more detail in our free guide to collaboration.

It has become a bit of a cliche to say that the currency of collaboration is conversation but it still holds true. So, if you’re interested in finding out more join us at our upcoming event this Friday 10 December, it’s free and online, register for the event.

George Dellal7 December 2021


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